Ahead of Diwali, air quality in numerous parts of Delhi has been ranked as “very poor” with the overall ranking of the national capital according to the Air Quality Index (AQI) standing at 299 – rising sharply from 270 earlier in the week. On Wednesday, it crossed the 300 mark.
In a bid to address this, the state environment minister Kailash Gehlot has requested that the centrally-run System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) be shared with the Delhi government. This comes as weather changes exacerbate the output of pollutants into the atmosphere of the National Capital Region (NCR), amid temperatures drop and rising moisture levels.
“I would request you to share the technical expertise developed by SAFAR in this regard so that Delhi government can benefit from the same,” Gehlot wrote to Union Health Minister and Union Minister of Earth Sciences Dr Harsh Vardhan. “I understand your ministry is equally concerned and both [of] the governments can work together to reduce pollution levels in Delhi.”
Gehlot flagged the burning of stubble by farmers in adjacent states for its role in driving pollution. Every year, paddy farmers burn seven to eight million metric tonnes of crop waste which contributes in a significant way to northern India’s pollution season.At present, crop burning is contributing to two percent of the pollution being observed in Delhi but Gehlot says that SAFAR anticipates this share to increase to six percent. “SAFAR also has the technology and equipment to do some allocation of pollution on real time basis,” he said.
Crop burning in neighbouring states is a major focus of the Delhi government’s pollution control efforts, appealing to the National Green Tribunal and the Supreme Court to take action. “I again urge all the governments to please do something about it,” said Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. “I request all the institutions to do something so that the health of the people is not affected.” Forecasts show that stubble burning is on the increase in neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab.
According to the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA), the overwhelming majority of the sources of pollution are local. “Incidents of external biomass burning cannot be ignored,” said EPCA member Sunita Narain. “These are worsening the pollution levels in Delhi-NCR. But biomass burning is contributing less than ten percent to the pollution, which means local sources account for ninety percent of the pollution. Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi; all are to blame,” EPCA member Sunita Narain said on Monday.
The Delhi government is enacting policies to control pollution, including an odd-even car rationing scheme; increasing the availability of public transport services; bans on diesel generator sets; which will be extended to cities within the NCR including Bahadurgarh, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Greater Noida, Gurgaon, Noida, Panipat, and Sonepat; increasing parking charges; and, in states of emergency, banning construction activity and the entry of vehicles such as trucks into the NCR. These policies are known as GRAP.
A bleak pollution season is forecast by SAFAR. “Late monsoon withdrawal is not good for air quality in north India as the time progresses towards winter,” it said. “During the fourth week of October, the temperature will also start to drop. The anticyclone is expected to re-strengthen only by mid-fourth week and associated clear skies and sinking motion will make the atmosphere very stable with calm surface winds.
“Both will lead to stagnant weather conditions (eg, low wind speeds, descending air, and compressed boundary layer), which favour rapid fine particulate matter formation and accumulation of pollutants.” Exacerbated by external pollutants and it is clear that Delhi will need to be proactive as its pollution season rears its head.